Family credits early eye test for saving child's sight

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Before children can read numbers and letters off of an eye chart, doctors urge families to make an appointment at the optometrist.

"Believe it or not, the first eye exam should be between six months and twelve months, so before the age of one," Dr. Susan Carter, a pediatric vision therapy specialist, explained.

Vision specialists are doing more than just screening for poor vision, eye doctors are looking anything that could hinder eye development.

"The biggest thing is to catch something that could be vision threatening, that could affect development and even some life-threatening conditions could be diagnosed and of course the earlier the better," she added.

The Glover family was given advice to visit the optometrist while their son, Anderson was just eight months old. They believed it was unnecessary at the time, but ultimately made the appointment.

"You would never guess. His eye wouldn't turn in. There was nothing that gave us any clue at all that he would have anything wrong with his eye," said Melissa Glover, Anderson's mom.

At that visit, baby Anderson was diagnosed with pediatric cataracts in his left eye. They visited an optometrist through a program called InfantSee, a public health program that provides free comprehensive eye assessments for children between six months old to 12 months old.

"As a parent, and to have your eight-month-old in your lap and you already have thees irrational fears but then someone tells you, that baby that you're trying to raise, he's not going to be normal," she said.

The cataract was stopping his optic nerve from developing. Doctors warned the family that there was a chance he would never be able to see out of that eye. But there was a treatment.

"He had his surgery at 13 months old, so he has an implant lens," explained Melissa. The family traveled to University of Alabama-Birmingham for the treatment.

The surgery was enough to fix the cataract, but not the nerve. The next step was covering the "good eye" with a gauze in order to force the nerve in his other eye to develop.

"I remember hiding in the closet from my mom trying to put the patch on me," said Anderson, now seven years old. He wore the patch for four years.

"He did not want to keep that eye patch on. We went through hundreds in a day. He would just rip it off. He would hide from me, he would cry," said Melissa. "We're doing all this but is it going to work? There was no guarantee that if you do this plan then it's going to be your outcome. It was this is what we're going to try and this is what we're going to hope for."

It worked. Anderson's corrected vision is now 20/25, much better than even his doctors anticipated.

"He's very rarely patching. He doesn't have to have a bifocal anymore. He's perfect," said Melissa.

Anderson can see with both eyes now, but what it's really given him is a clear look at how strong he really is.

"It's taught me that I can do a lot of things with just one eye," said Anderson.

Find more information about InfantSee here.